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Lateral Movement Techniques and Prevention

Understanding common lateral movement techniques, the risks, and the cybersecurity solutions  

Cybersecurity breaches are more than just front-page news – they’re often pivotal moments that can make or break an organization’s future, meaning PR repercussions, costly fines from regulator non-compliance, and a loss of customer trust that’s hard to shake. 

One of the primary methods attackers use to exploit network vulnerabilities is lateral movement. But what is it, and how can businesses effectively counter these techniques?  

Lateral Movement Explained  

Lateral movement refers to cyber attackers’ techniques after gaining initial access to a system. Their aim is to move deeper within the network, accessing other systems and data, to find the ‘crown jewels’—often sensitive and valuable information.  

Common Lateral Movement Techniques  

Lateral movement techniques grow more and more sophisticated month by month, with attackers constantly trying to find new ways to compromise service accounts for maximum reach and effect, but there are several common methods that are standard practices for attackers. 

  1. Pass-the-Hash (PtH): Attackers steal credential hashes rather than passwords. They then use these hashes to authenticate and move across the network.
  2. Pass-the-Ticket (PtT): Similar to PtH, but attackers steal Kerberos tickets to authenticate and access other parts of the network.
  3. Remote Execution: Using tools like PsExec, attackers can execute commands or malware on remote systems.
  4. Stolen Credentials: Attackers often steal usernames and passwords, or buy them in bulk from the dark web, to traverse the network under the guise of legitimate users.
  5. Internal Reconnaissance: Cyber adversaries can use tools such as BloodHound to map the network and Active Directory, identifying the most valuable targets.  

Solutions to Prevent Lateral Movement Techniques 

While lateral movement techniques may seem diverse and their broad spray of attack somewhat daunting, there are several ways to mitigate lateral movement techniques and some best practices for defense. 

  1. Limit Privileges: Operate on the principle of least privilege (PoLP) or zero trust. Ensure that users and systems only have the minimum access they need to perform their tasks.
  2. Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Implementing MFA can prevent attackers from using stolen credentials, as they would need the secondary authentication factor to gain initial access.
  3. Network Segmentation: Dividing the network into segments ensures that even if attackers breach one part, they can’t easily access the others. Further division, for zero trust best practices with microsegmentation, stops many lateral movement techniques at source due to its protective granular nature.
  4. Frequent Password Changes: Regularly updating passwords makes it more challenging for attackers to use stolen credentials over extended periods.
  5. Monitor for Suspicious Activity: Implement robust monitoring and logging to detect unusual activities within the network. This can include unusual login times or high data transfer volumes. Understanding normal communication patterns can easily identify and flag anomalies—often indicators of lateral movement and even the signs of zero day attacks.
  6. Comprehensive Visibility: It is important to have end-to-end visibility into applications and their interdependencies. In addition, vulnerability mapping can also highlight defense weaknesses, unnecessary behaviors, and other security vulnerabilities.
  7. Integration: Our own tool, TrueFort Platform, integrates seamlessly with other cybersecurity tools like Crowdstrike, SentinelOne, and Armis, bolstering their effectiveness – maximizing ROI, and getting immediate insights. It can take data from various sources, offering a holistic view of the security landscape. Based on its insights, TrueFort Platform can suggest effective security policies. This automation ensures that protection is always aligned with the latest threat data.
  8. Fast Response Times: Upon detecting potential threats, any tool must offer rapid response capabilities to neutralize lateral movement techniques before they can cause significant damage. Rather than relying solely on known threat signatures, TrueFort analyses behavior in real-time, meaning it can detect threats even if they’ve never been seen. 

Building a Robust Defense Against Lateral Movement Techniques 

Lateral movement techniques are a stark reminder that the initial breach is just the beginning of a cyber attack. Attackers will continue to navigate through the network, searching for valuable assets. By understanding their techniques and implementing robust solutions, businesses can effectively shield themselves from potential catastrophes. 

Platforms like ours play a pivotal role in this defense strategy, providing tools that detect and actively prevent lateral movement. Ultimately, a proactive approach to cybersecurity, combining awareness, cutting-edge tools, and regular audits, is the best defense against the ever-evolving lateral movement techniques used by attackers. 

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